Wednesday, January 21, 2015

About a Certain Martian

"I'm pretty much fucked.

That's my considered opinion.


Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it's turned into a nightmare.

I don't even know who'll read this. I I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.

For the record... I didn't die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can't blame them. Maybe there'll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, "Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars."

And it'll be right, probably. 'Cause I'll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everybody thinks I did."


Mark Watney is Andy Weir. Or Andy Weir is Mark Watney. I would have said it even if I hadn’t read the interview in Entertainment Weekly. But what he says there confirms it. “My theory is that every protagonist is someone the author wants to be or who the author wants to screw. Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself magnified without any of the qualities I dislike.”

Read the whole interview. It’s a very cool one.

The whole book is in fact a vehicle for Andy Weir to be Mark Watney and to have an adventure on Mars. And that’s all right.

The other characters seem to be there only to deliver dialogue and move forward the story about what’s happening to Watney/Weir on Mars. I suppose their behaviour is typical of NASA employees at that level and in such situations. I don’t know. I’ve certainly seen it in many movies dealing with space realistically. Many other reviewers have complained about the two-dimensionality of these characters. I say that there’s no use in knowing more about them; it would be just unnecessary details.

Because “The Martian” is a story with one character, or —okay— let’s say two at most: the protagonist —Mark Watney, and the antagonist —Mark Watney’s bad luck.

Mars is not really the antagonist. Mars is just the background. If there’s one thing I would’ve liked Andy Weir to do more, is to have Mars be more than just the background, share more descriptions of what must only be incredible, desolate vistas. 

Each page is heavily laced with scientific musings and calculations, so, if you’re not (very) scientifically inclined, you might find it boring to read.

Actually, this is not a science-fiction novel. This is a very realistic novel. People haven’t stepped on Mars yet but they will pretty soon.

There is one thing though that I don’t understand. In the book, NASA spent a lot of resources on these missions to Mars and, obviously, they knew that there are dust storms there, some so big that they could envelop the whole planet. So how come such a well-planed, expensive mission is aborted just a few days in because of a storm?

Obviously, Watney “needed” to be abandoned on Mars and with plenty of resources left behind by his teammates, but I cannot believe that NASA didn’t have a solution for such a scenario. Maybe an anchoring system for the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) or something like that? After all, all these missions, of which Watney’s was the third,  were based on the MAV sitting there and producing fuel for the return ascent to orbit long before the crew even arrived to Mars.

However, the need to hastily abandon the planet comes from the danger of the MAV tipping over because of the high winds. Apparently, it was calculated for 150 kph winds and what they got there was 175 kph. And those winds were starting to tip the MAV over.

No. No. No. I’m sorry, but no.

According to Mars-One, “Mars has a very thin atmosphere, about 1% of Earth’s atmosphere. Because of this, hurricane forces on Mars feel like a gentle breeze on Earth. The problem of a storm is not that it will push you over or destroy material, the problem is that Mars is extremely “dusty”.” Read more about this at Space Exploration.

Mariner 9 has recorded wind gusts of 500 to 600 km/hr (or 300-375 miles/hr) and typical wind speeds in the Martian atmosphere exceed 200 km/hr (or 125 miles/hr). That doesn’t match with the 175 kph.

That being said, I simply cannot believe that the author, who seems to have researched and to have got the science brilliantly on everything else, could’ve made such a mistake. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s a catch. If you know it, please share it with me.
Leaving this aside, I loved the story and I loved Mark Watney. His ingenuity and his optimism are infinite and contagious. It was a pleasure reading his logs. His somewhat childish ways, his humour, and his use of profanity are not only endearing but also —I think— his way of overcoming one of the direst situations into which someone might find themselves.

He’s a great guy, made of the stuff the first astronauts and cosmonauts were made of.

"I need to ask myself, "What would an Apollo astronaut do?"

He'd drink three whisky sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, the fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man, those guys were cool."

Watney reminded me of “If the Sun Dies” (Se il Suole muore) a book about the early American Space program by the Italian journalist, author and political interviewer Oriana Fallaci. If you can find it, read it. If you can't find it, at least read the quote here from “If the Sun Dies" —it’s amazing!

And isn’t it a case of very good writing when you pretty much know the outcome and, yet, you’re still on the edge of your seat reading the story? I think that it is.

I gave “The Martian” five stars wholeheartedly.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Taking Turns

This pair of cardinals has been gracing my backyard for many years and I was very worried about them during the brutal cold we had a few days ago, minus 18 F or minus 36 F with the windchill...

But here they are, on this balmy day of 12 F... Big sigh of relief...

They're always taking turns. He eats, she watches. She eats, he watches. Could be also because there's not enough space for them to eat at the same time... Welcome back!

He eats...

She watches...
He watches...
She eats...

Monday, January 05, 2015

Well, Hello 2015

I'm sorry to say that 2014 hasn't been a good year for me. I didn't write about this on the blog -although I did write a post or two that I chose not to publish- because I simply didn't want to think about it, couldn't think about it. Someone extremely dear to me lost her battle with cancer in June, and bad things happened to other people about whom I care a lot.

There is one thing that "saved" me, in a way, and that was working on my novel, my short stories, and preparing the collection of short stories for publication. You know, something like in Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a rock:"

I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;

Holding that real book in my hands was certainly the high moment of the year.

So, what can I say about 2015? I certainly wish it's a very happy one for all of you, for everybody. Probably for the first time in many years, I didn't feel the moment between the 31st of december and the 1st of January as a threshold. 2015 doesn't feel like a new beginning, or a new hope. It's more like this:

I had no idea that this was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the WWII. Well, I can certainly use it this year... and perhaps I won't be just drifting away... like in this song that I love and that sometimes doesn't let me sleep at night with its obsessive refrain....

So, allow me to wish you all the best: good health, love, good books, and good music.... and if you haven't bought it yet, perhaps you might consider buying my book this year...

...from or Amazon. ca. Thank you! :-) :-) :-)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Old Man and the Squirrels

Where was Quiqui? He couldn’t leave without him.

The old man listened harder. There had been a crashing sound not far. Coming from the big house, the nice house all lit up. He started towards it, painfully dragging his left leg; the cold made it hurt even more than usual.

 “Dirty squirrel! Go away! You’re the one destroying my flowers all summer long!”

 A squirrel darted on the sidewalk, barely avoiding the broom maneuvered by a big woman. A car screeched around the corner – dissonant in the silence of the night – and sped carelessly down the street. In its wake, the squirrel was a small trembling bundle on the ice-covered curb.

 “Quiqui, come!” the old man said, gently despite his hammering heart, and opening his large coat. “You forget there are no acorns left. You’ve become as old as me, my friend...”

 The squirrel jumped high and scurried inside the old man’s coat.
“You too, tramp!” yelled the woman even louder. “Go away or I'll call the police!”

 For a short moment, the old man contemplated the idea of spending the night at the police station, warm for once, maybe even with a small piece of something to eat. But he could not...

 He turned his back to the woman and began walking away as quickly as his bad leg would allow him, tightening his coat around him against the bitter cold.

The house was so big that it took the old man a while to go past it. He didn’t look up; it was enough to see the colored lights reflecting on the frozen sidewalk and he could imagine the beautiful, warm, shining things inside. Another world.

 Only once, he glimpsed up and then he saw her. From the last window, a young girl dressed in white and silver was watching him with wide eyes. An angel. He tightened the collar of the coat around his neck and walked faster. If he walked all night, in the morning he could be in the country and there...

 “Sir! Sir!”

 Small hurried feet tapped behind him on the frozen sidewalk.

 The old man stopped and turned around. The girl from the window was standing there, wearing only her beautiful silver dress. 

 “You should go back inside,” he said kindly. “You'll catch a cold.”

 “Sir, is it true what I've seen? Do you have a squirrel in your coat?”

 Her voice was like chimes, full of excitement and anticipation.

 “I have several,” he said, tilting his head towards her with a mysterious air.

“Please, sir, can I see them?”

The old man opened one side of his coat. In the lining, he had sewn six large pockets and out of each pocket, a squirrel was showing its little head.

The little girl’s eyes widened. One was surely the black one that Mrs. Fanu had just chased away. Three others were grey. There was also an albino. And a red one was wearing a red and white scarf around his neck.

 “That's Fifi,” said the old man, following the girl’s gaze. “She is very sensitive to the cold...”

 “But... But...”

Excitement and disbelief mixed on the little girl’s face in an almost comical way.

“They are my friends. They are cold, hungry... I take care of them. They are my friends...”

 The girl glance over her shoulder. By one of the towering windows, a gigantic Christmas tree sparkled in all colors. It was warm in her house and it smelled of cinnamon cake.

 “Don’t you have a home, sir?”

 “Yes, several.” He smiled and pointed to a bench from the park on the other side of the street, the one opposite the statue of the knight. The bushes had lost most of their leaves and the bench was visible from the sidewalk. “There it is. That’s my summer house.”

The little girl frowned.

I've never seen you there, she wanted to tell him but that wasn’t true. She had seen him every day but she had never looked at him. Except when her friends had made fun of his long worn out coat that he was wearing even in July. When she had laughed as loud as the others.

 “And in winter?” she said. Shame was making her cheeks very hot. 

 “My winter house is behind the supermarket in Clinton Street.”

 “Aren’t you cold?”
“Yes, sometimes it is very cold.” He wanted to say more but then he suddenly changed his mind. “Excuse me, but I have to go now. It’s good for me to walk. Walking ... it helps with the cold... Good bye, little girl.”

 The little girl’s heart felt incredibly heavy.

 “Are you leaving?” she called after him.

He stopped again, even more reluctant this time.

 “Yes ... They took all my boxes ... I have nowhere to sleep. And ... There is a new guard and he doesn’t like to see me in his park. He doesn’t like my friends, the squirrels. There are also more and more cars ... Last week, Quiqui almost got hit by a – Well, even today… We’re leaving. In the country, there will be more food for us and maybe some work for me. Goodbye ... you're very kind for coming to talk to me...”

 The girl thought harder. She wanted so much to help this old man.

 Suddenly, she had an idea.

 “Can you repair a faucet?”

 The old man frowned. What a strange question...

 “In fact, yes… I was a plumber when I was young, before... before all of this...”

A little smile passed briefly over the old man’s eyes.

“You are too young, of course,” he said, “but forty years ago there’s been a huge flooding and no one seemed to know how to fix it –”

“I know! My grandpa told me this story! A real hero saved the town. You saved my house too. Was it really you, sir?”

“It was just a broken pipe, nothing else. I was just able to find it and fix it, that’s all…”

The little girl smiled happily.

 “Listen, I know that my father is looking for a new caretaker. He’ll be home tomorrow. This is a very old house. Ancient… There is a leaky faucet next to my parents’ bedroom. Nobody seems to be able to repair it and the noise keeps my father awake all night long. You don’t want to be next to him when he’s grumpy. The former janitor got scared and left. But I’m sure that you’ll know how to fix it, sir. Please, come inside to shelter and tomorrow everything will work out just fine. You’ll see... This evening you can relax in the hall, under the stairs. It is warm and...”

 The little girl’s enthusiasm brought tears to the old man’s eyes.

 “Thanks,” he said. “You're a very nice young girl. But I cannot leave my squirrels alone. Really, they have no one else but me... Thank you ... but I couldn’t. Thank you...”

 He turned his back to her again, not just to walk away but to hide his tears too. Tricky tears, they always did what they wanted.

 “No, sir,” she cried. “You misunderstood me. You are all invited!”

He felt her small hand on his arm.

“Please, sir! Come!”


It was warm in the hall. Almost too warm for the old man who hadn’t known anything else but the cold for such a long time. The sweet Christmas music sounded to him like a forgotten lullaby. Quiqui, Riri, Doudou, Fifi, Coco, and Snow-White were quieter than ever, they too almost asleep. His little squirrels… his children…

Heavy steps stopped in front of him. It was the lady with the broom. He tried to stand, scared that she was going to chase him away, but she smiled to him gently. She put a large silver tray in front of him.

“Here you are,” she said. “There’s soup and bread for you, and a lot of nuts for your friends. Merry Christmas, sir!”

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”


Merry Christmas, everybody!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Another Winter

image belongs to BaxiaArt

white birds
flock from heavens
howling savage songs
piercing eyes
—still incredulous—
with their beaks like needles
sewing trees and squirrels
into stillness

black birds
rise from earth
to meet them
in mad whirlwinds
of war and play

heaven and earth are one
the same harsh stars
above and below

only inside
a light

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

It's Alive!!!!!!

I've been waiting to have a reason to say this for quite some time… LOL

So, yes, “Wanderings on Darker Shores” has been "alive" for a bit more than a week now on, but I was waiting for the LookInside feature to be active and also for other online stores, like, to include it in their listings.

Faithful readers of this blog will recognize many of these stories and poems, but I’ve also included four stories that have never been published before. These are bigger stories and together they make up for about 42% of the pages in the book, or a bit more than 46% of the total word count.

It is somehow difficult for me to categorize them since it is a rather eclectic collection. I call them strange stories, or weird stories, if you prefer. There are some ghosts in there, even some zombies, some aliens. There is no gore. No “real” horror, unless by suggestion. There are hints. There are shadows.

Actually, the working title was “The Quiet Fantastic” but I changed it to “Wanderings on Darker Shores” not only as an homage to Edgar Allan Poe, but also because I see these stories as incursions into the darker realms that lurk beyond the thin veil of reality....

The fantastic (see or even better is actually the genre that I think applies best to this book.

Anyway, here it is for now:

Thank you for spreading the word! :-) :-) :-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lucky or Not?

I think that most stories worth telling are in fact stories about unlucky people. Of course, in the end everything might turn out just fine, with a happy ending, but the beginning has to be bad, hasn’t it?

Think about it.

A girl has loving parents who protect her and who care for her. She grows up surrounded by her loving family, goes to school, always has good friends, gets a great job, meets the right guy, and they live happily ever after. Lucky girl. End of story.

Very nice. Now, how about this?

A girl has loving parents but her mother dies and, unfortunately, her father marries a woman with two daughters of her own and then he has to go on a long trip, leaving the girl alone with the very mean stepmother and stepsisters. You know the rest of the story…

Some guy goes on a balloon ride, has a great time watching the landscape from the sky, then lands back nicely and is ready to show to his friends all the pictures he’s taken.

Another guy goes on a balloon ride but the ropes break and he’s up in the air on his own and before he knows it he’s blown away. After days of being a toy to the winds, he lands in an unknown land, full of wonder and dangers…

Maybe something like this…

An illustration by Edouard Riou for Jules Verne’s “Five Weeks in a Balloon”, 1863

When I was reading Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” – have you read it? – I was very intrigued by the concept of “the luck of Teela Brown.” Teela Brown was a young woman, with very “lucky” ancestors, six generations of winners of the Earth’s Birthright Lottery. She was recruited by Nessus, the Puppeteer, for a voyage to the Ringworld, in the hope that her luck will rub off the entire expedition bringing it success. I can only wonder, though, if her “luck” didn’t really end right there…

I’m thinking that even the meaning of “luck” could be interpreted in different ways. Is one lucky to live a sheltered, dull, “normal” life, or is one lucky to live an “interesting” life albeit with some serious heartache in it? I assume the answer depends on which side of the “fence” you consider yourself to be when you’re giving it. Of course, there’s always the combination of dull and unlucky…

Care to share your thoughts?

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


sometimes the “real” reality
seems almost within grasp
like a world of wonders
– or perhaps of horrors –
glimpsed just below the thin
layer of ice on a lake
so close
so close

makes you wonder

if only you could lie down
with your bare heart
and melt this ice
of the paradigm
would you have your
aha moment?
would you “know” at last?

(would you achieve more than
catching a cold?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Coming Soon...

... to an on-line store near you...

 I simply love the cover! Steve Santiago has made it. Check out his art at illustrator Steve Santiago or on Facebook.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Trick

We gave him a good face, not too scary, not too funny. The mouth was a bit too big but it looked great with the light inside.

When we came back from our trick-or-treating, the pumpkin was still looking fierce, although the candle was almost extinguished and the top was almost cooked.

Before we went to bed, we took him back inside. We didn’t want the squirrels or the skunk to eat him.

“Where’s all the candy?” the oldest said the next day.

“I put it in the pumpkin,” the youngest cried. “The pumpkin ate it all!”

“No, you ate it all,” the oldest said.

They went on quarrelling.

The pumpkin sat on the kitchen floor and seemingly watched us all with his big eyes. Did he want to say something with his big mouth or was he grinning?

“I’m telling you, this is an evil pumpkin,” the youngest said. “I know, the squirrels! Put him outside and the squirrels will take care of him.”

So back he was next to the front door.

“What’s this pumpkin doing back inside?” I said in the evening.

“I didn’t bring him in,” the oldest said.

“I didn’t bring him in,” the youngest said.

Out with him again. Maybe the squirrels hadn’t been hungry the day before.

The next morning, who was grinning from the kitchen table?

The pumpkin.

“Mom,” the youngest said. “Maybe we should let him stay. I’m not cross with him anymore.”

So, he’s back in. Watching the room from a corner. Grinning. He’s just as orange and nice as he was on Halloween. So many months later. The cat doesn’t go near him. We make sure no candy goes next to him.

We confess, we’re a bit scared of him, but he’s ours, isn’t he? And if he keeps looking this good, we might not have to carve another for this Halloween.

Happy Halloween, everybody!!!


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Still Far Away

Death is still far away
let us indulge in
the little things
let us cocoon ourselves
in the permanence of tomorrows
as if we still had infinity
ahead of us
(maybe we do)
let us plan
thousands of
little futures
in preparation of
our glorious one
yes, that one,
the one that’s yet to come
the one that will come
Death is (still/maybe/not that) far away...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taking the Plunge

After years of watching my friends from the blogs and from elsewhere courageously and tenaciously putting their work out for the world to read, I've decided to finally do it too.

So, I'm preparing a collection of tales - most of them have appeared on this blog but there are also a few new longer ones. I hope to have them published in October.

As you can see, I'm working with the printed book template.

I love my Kindle. It’s with me everywhere I go. It’s my treasure box. A treasure box that is starting to become chaotic. That is starting to resemble a little black hole.

I’m not patient enough to be super-organized. I have close to 400 books on the Kindle itself and probably at least 200 others in the ‘cloud’. However, I have many times more printed books. I know exactly what printed books I have and where they are, on which shelf, in which room. The Kindle ones not so much.

I know e-books are the future. Or at least a very big part of the future. For writers they are convenient. Easy to get them out. Better royalties. Maybe other advantages that I'm not aware of. For readers too they are convenient, especially these days when everything is about instant gratification. I want a book. Click and I have it. No need to wait for Amazon to send it or to go to the bookstore.

But then, what happens to all these e-books? How do they endure through time?

I'll prepare the Kindle version later but, for now, I would really like to give this book a chance to live on paper, at least for a little while.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life and the Beach

A beach, I think, is a pretty good allegory for life. I find it especially true for the crowded beach of an all-inclusive resort.

Let me tell you why.

You come there for a week, ten days, or, if you’re lucky, two weeks. You lie in the sun, you bathe in the sea, you participate in the activities, you drink your mojitos and your daiquiris.

Sometimes, something mildly exciting happens. The people on the banana-boat got overturned again. Look at them, they can’t get back on. A photographer parades with a huge yellow snake or with a cute monkey. Not both of them at the same time. A man and a woman with beautiful athletic bodies, their skin ebony, wearing tribal attire, pose -he with women and she with men- perhaps for the same photographer.

Sometimes you might even get noticed. If you’re too fat, too skinny, too beautiful, too ugly, topless or wearing the loud neon-green bathing suit that doesn’t hide anything. Most of the time you observe the scene from underneath your umbrella. You might play a game or two of volleyball or take the salsa lessons given right there on the sand by an impossibly flexible guy from the animation team. You might build a sand castle. Others have certainly built nicer sand castles than yours, but you’re proud of yours anyway. You might even think it will last.

And then, it’s time to leave. You thought it was going to last forever but it’s really time to leave. And you’re gone.

Somebody might remember you for a while, for instance the people who occupied the umbrella next to yours, just because you were always there if nothing else. The same way you remember the teenager looking like Heckle (or Jeckle) the cartoon magpies, or the trail of Dolce & Gabbana “Light Blue” always following the woman whose face you’ve never actually seen, or the guy with the tiny boom box at his waist (the same guy with the neon bathing suit!) or the guy miraculously carrying five plastic cups of beer in each hand plus one in his mouth. But then those people leave too and there’s nobody there to have even seen you let alone known you. New people come to the beach, build their sand castles and then they leave, and so on.
The beach is always there. People come and go.

I guess that’s the beach. And that’s life.

So I suppose what I mean is that it’s nice to enjoy it while you’re there. Dance your dances, drink your drinks, and don’t worry too much about your sand castles.

This is me, drawn by my youngest daughter in sand.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bunny Time

Now it blinks here
Soft and fragrant
Daydreams in a bed of clover
Now it stretches
Into shadows
Onto crunchy forest floor
Then, Moon and clover
Brother bunny
You and me

 (to a sweet bunny on this longest day of 2014)

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Out of my Cave to Say Hi and... Seven Years

Well, hi guys!

I’m not dead (yet) but I’m sort of dead to the world... I reside exclusively in the world where my heart is... the story that unravels now for me and that I try to write down.

I’ve started occasionally to scribble some verse for the blog but stopped every time. That is because all (of my) poetry comes out sad, most (of my) thoughts that lend themselves to poetry are sad, and I don't want to be sad. I’ve had it with feeling at the bottom of a deep well (I do feel like that a lot of the time) and looking up at a patch of blue sky that seems infinitely far. So I am wary of all 'poetic' thoughts...

(This is an illustration from "The Green Ray" by Jules Verne, translated by M. de Hauteville, 1883)

I’ve also started writing a review or two or other thoughts on various subjects but never got to finishing them. (One thing I have to say though is this: Karen Marie Moning is brilliant and her series Fever is brilliant. If you haven’t read it, check it out. Need I say that it is brilliant?  Barrons and V'lane - enough said...  :-) )

However, I think of you often and I miss terribly the thoughtful exchanges with my blogging friends, the daily snippets of beauty and wisdom, or just the news of your whereabouts and of your endeavours. I apologize for not replying to all those kind enough to comment on my two most recent posts. But I’m not leaving this place and I hope to be truly back one day.

Amazingly, Chick with a Quill is seven years old today.

Bye, guys! See you soon! Be well!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


you gotta do
what you gotta do

you gotta
run with it
spin a tune to it
dance to it
bite it
cry for it
laugh at it
jive with it

you gotta do
what you gotta do

you gotta
live it

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good-bye 2013

I couldn't resist putting together some titles for one last spooky little 'poem.' Some of these books I've read this year, others I'm looking forward to reading in 2014.

The Vampire Tarot

forgotten songs
of  love and death -
(I am)
until I die
the isle of blood,
these broken stars
let the right one in

Now that 2013 is coming to an end, I'd like to thank all of my blogging friends for taking the time to visit this place and to share their thoughts on what they've seen here. Your presence is always, always, always very much appreciated!

May the New Year 2014 bring to you, and to everybody else, only good things, among them love and good health, and wishes come true to your heart's desire.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

hmmm, what is winter?

snow snow snow

funny things in the snow

 pensive in the snow

funny colors in the air

winter is nice

Merry Christmas, everybody!!! May your hearts and lives be filled with love and joy!